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Earth Final Conflict Final Scene

In this week’s Clip of the Week, we bring you the best scene from Season Five of the show (which, to be honest, was a pretty catastrophic disaster overall).  It also happens to be the last scene.  This isn’t one of those, “it’s brilliant because it’s over” things, because it is a genuinely good minute or two featuring Renee, Liam, Ra’jel and Yulyn.

Enjoy.  Pity the rest of the season didn’t live up to the great potential.

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Top 7 Tips for Creating New Sci-Fi in 2012

Sci-Fi has changed. Over the past fifty years, the topics and settings that capture the imaginations of viewers and readers everywhere have shifted. Where Star Trek once captivated millions, now the going boldly through outer space routine appears to have been worn out.

The transformation has led modern science fiction series to feature elements of futuristic technologies and discoveries, but set in modern day. Take Falling Skies, probably about as genuinely sci-fi in terms of aliens as you can get on mainstream television today, yet still set in a world we can recognise and understand. Why is that? Do we connect more readily with characters in situations we can easily imagine ourselves put into? Are we simply bored with space travel as a concept on television? Or has society simply changed?

The amount of patience we hold for new television is dropping. Whereas decades ago, one bad episode of a TV series didn’t do too much harm, nowadays it can lose you a million viewers the next week – and you may never get them back. We are cynical, as shows like Firefly have shown that even the best series can be cancelled within the next month, leaving you disappointed and with no satisfactory resolution to the storyline. Networks view shows as a game of numbers: bad ratings = cancellation. But what they perhaps do not realise is that flippant, trigger-happy cancellations damage network reputation; and, compounded, will make viewers ever-more hesitant and cautious when it comes to embracing a new show.

So how can budding and aspiring writers of science-fiction in all its forms create a new show that will captivate and draw in a new generation of fans?

1. Have a core principle.

Star Trek excelled when exploring the galaxy and the human condition. Those were Roddenberry’s core values. He used elements of science fiction to tell us about ourselves in ways we didn’t imagine possible. He explored race at a time when it remained taboo on television, going so far as to feature the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Similarly, Earth: Final Conflict was at its strongest in the first season, and most captivating when the real dilemmas of the series pilot – ‘Decision’ – were being explored. Who killed William Boone’s wife? Why were the Taelons on Earth? How could he discover the truth whilst maintaining his double agent status? It may seem simple, but suddenly you have a real human condition being explored here. Love, revenge, deception.

Gene Roddenberry sure had a knack of enticing set-ups, and there’s plenty to be learned from them. Earth: Final Conflict was set just a few years ahead of the present, and so remains a more marketable concept for today’s television audiences. This in itself is fine, so long as the core principle of your story and premise remains strong and carries through the continuing plot arc.

2. Don’t dumb anything down for networks/publishers etc.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, human beings aren’t stupid. More crucially, science fiction readers are most definitely not stupid. The best plotlines lead the viewer or reader along, without being heavy-handed about it. No one likes to be patronised. “Oh, look, murder is ethically tough. You can learn from that folks.” No sh*t, Sherlock.

Instead, take Deep Space Nine‘s ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ where Sisko must weigh up whether the murder of a Romulan senator, and subsequent tricking of the Romulan Empire, is an acceptable price for saving billions of lives. Can murder ever be justified? And when you ordered it, how would you reconcile that in your own mind?

‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is a classic because it doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. It doesn’t preach, and it doesn’t dumb down the argument in order for you understand it. Crucially, it doesn’t tell you what the right answer is. It doesn’t have a happy ending, only an ambiguous one. That – along with Avery Brooks’ stellar performance – is why it is regarded as a genuine classic.

3. Don’t pick your cast based on sex appeal.

Americans look the same.

At least on television they do. There seems to be a belief amongst television executives that people won’t watch your show if the cast aren’t ‘sexy’ enough. Thus we appear to have been confronted by this genetically engineered super-race of attractive cast members who don’t look particularly distinctive. When I think of Fringe, which I haven’t watched in some time, the first thing I conjure up in my mind is the image of John Noble. Why? Not because he’s God’s gift to acting, but because he’s over sixty and on the regular cast of a mainstream sci-fi show. That tells you quite a lot.

In short, don’t do this:

It doesn’t work.

And I’m actually going to give Stargate Universe some praise here.  Robert Carlyle stood out due to fine performance and the fact he wasn’t turned into just another American on television. He was allowed to remain Scottish.  Eli Wallace was a character that springs to mind because he was fat, and depicted positively.  As for the military guy?  Not Colonel Young – another actor picked for acting capability, not how he looked and the results were very positive – but the second in command.  Lieutenant… I just had to Google that.  His name was Matthew Scott.  And he looks like every supposedly hunky American on television.  Just another clone.

Diversity and distinctiveness is good. It helps the viewer remember characters, names and plots and increases your chances of them coming back the next week.

4. Have a strong lead character.
Again, I hark back to William Boone in Earth: Final Conflict.  The show began its decline as soon as Robert Leeshock appeared on the scene.  As capable as I’m sure Mr. Leeshock is, the character he played had no where near the gravitas or appeal of Boone.  The entire premise of the show revolving around Boone’s morale dilemma vanished, and with it did a lot of the strength of the series.

Pick a main character who will hold the audience’s interest.  In this day and age, they don’t have to be the William Shatner-esque hunk, brave, heroic and charismatic.  It’s okay to have someone darker, like Dexter.  You can still explore so much, and most importantly, you’re more likely to tap into plot lines and character interactions that aren’t overused or maybe have never even been seen before!  Why?  Because a uniquely crafted main character can guide the progress of the entire show, and unique characters create unique interactions.

Sci-Fi in 2012 is allowed to be dark.  Star Trek has intertwined the concept of sci-fi and a hopeful outlook for the future where humans succeed for all the morally right reasons.  That’s all very well, and believe me, I have no problem with it.  But you are allowed a different interpretation.  After all, it’s your story.

5. Tell a good story.
There is nothing more important than storytelling.  I was furious recently when someone told me they were doing a theatre performance based on practical aesthetics.  The script – which I had read – was full of plot holes that you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through.  When I suggested that some of these holes be patched up, I got told, “We don’t worry about the story.  It’s about character and place through practical aesthetics.”  This is nonsense.  All you’ll have is a well-acted, bad script.

On the internet, content is king.  In television drama, story is king.  Stories have to interest, inspire and challenge.  Yes, acting is important, but plenty of classic science fiction was hardly  ever going to win any Oscar performances for Best Actor.

That said, in 2012, back up your challenging, interesting story with fine acting, and you’re onto a real winner.  That’s what television audiences expect today.  They expect a fine performance from at least some of the cast each week.  Get a good cast, and write a story each week that really takes the viewer surprise, and stays within the confines of reality of the show, and you can’t go too far wrong.

6. Special effects aren’t the be-all and end-all.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a special effects-fest without real ‘meat’ or substance.  Spielberg’s War of the Worldscould have been so much more, despite the magnificent special effects work, if a little more time was spent on the storyline.

Special effects are, nonetheless, an integral part of science-fiction.  It’s how we travel from the present into the future, and is one of the primary methods of making that future believable.Use them with style.  My favourite moment for this is a simple one: in Firefly’s pilot, Serenity (the episode, of course, not the film), the ship comes down to land in the Eavesdown Docks.

I can’t find a video, so a picture of the shot I’m talking about is below.

The effects shot here lasts only a second or two maximum, but features a ton of ships flying overhead with accompanying sound effects.  For barely any cost, the shot gives the illusion of a busy spaceport, when in fact it’s a relatively cheap set.  Clever use of effects like this can be subtle and effective.  They can be cheap, and they don’t have to be in your face.  And what’s more, finding ways to incorporate them will encourage some innovative thinking on the part of the director, and create camera angles and shots that you may not otherwise have enjoyed.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a huge special effects showdown from time to time, and if you can make them look good, fire away.  But never let them distract from the core principle I talked about in Point 1.  Telling a story, and asking questions, is the reason you’re here.  Not to watch gargantuan dinosaurs eat spaceships in the middle of a fire nebula.

7. “It’s okay to leave them to die.”
Any story has a finite lifespan.  Finish it naturally, before the network finishes you.  Don’t drag on too long, don’t get boring.

Set a plan from the start of the story you want to tell, work out how long it will take, and then stick to it.  Planned series are always better than series made up off the cuff.  24 Season 7 benefitted from the Writers’ Strike in that they could plan an entire season before filming started.

Suddenly, the quality of the show bounced back from the dire Season 6 that struggled as the writers ran out of ideas.

Sandoval

7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV

Topless Robot have uploaded their 7 Great Morally Dubious Characters of Sci-Fi TV.

Quite how they can put Nerus from SG-1, and Todd from Atlantis in ahead of Robert Carlyle’s Nicholas Rush from Stargate: Universe is beyond me.  And where is Earth: Final Conflict‘s Ronald Sandoval of Season One?  The Machiavellian agent driven purely to serve the Taelons, but whose love for his wife is never truly eradicated.  Or is it?

It’s not a bad list, and characters such as Q, Baltar and Garak certainly deserve their place.

Who would you put in there?

Five ways to ruin a perfectly good sci-fi show


Sci-Fi has a long and proud history of cancellation. Perfectly good shows (and plenty of plain awful shows) have seen the axe for a multitude of different reasons. Let’s take a look at five sure-fire ways to ruin a decent show.

1) Air your show on FOX
As Firefly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse has shown, quality has no impact on the lifetime of your show if you choose to air it on FOX. In fact, it would seem that longevity in FOX is inversely proportional to quality. Firefly was absolute quality. Just Google “firefly cancelled” to see the outcry. Dollhouse, although still a good show, wasn’t near Firefly’s calibre, and therefore lasted for slightly longer before reaching the same grisly demise. And let’s not even get started on Sliders! That’s it, Fox: create some of the finest science fiction of the last decade before callously shooting it down. Good call!

2) Kill off the lead character (or at least get rid of them unceremoniously)
Once they’re gone, the show can’t be far behind. Although Earth: Final Conflict lasted for some time after the death of William Boone, played by Kevin Kilner. However, when you base your show so firmly around the lead character’s personality and moral conflicts, you have a huge amount of creative rebuilding and restructuring that is not easy to successfully achieve. Even Ben Browder’s introduction to Stargate SG-1 to replace Richard Dean Anderson, although relatively well managed, signalled the beginning of the end for the show (even if it did provide enough energy to delay the inevitable for a year or two)

3) Go on for too long
Star Trek is probably the finest example. You can’t keep producing top quality stories week-in, week-out for fifteen years. Voyager and Enterprise probably didn’t need to happen. Deep Space Nine was tremendous, and after that the franchise should probably have taken three or four years out to refresh and re-energise. Voyager’s premise was strong, but it’s implementation was poor. As soon as the writer’s think creating an incredibly inaccurate Irish village in the holodeck is a good idea, it’s time to panic. Being from Ireland, the whole thing was laughable. And it was never going to be good sci-fi.

T'Pol

4) Sex it up!
Ratings are falling, reviews are mediocre, what do you do? Get your most attractive female cast member to take her clothes off, regardless of the plot making sense. Nudity is always a winner, right? Sadly, it’s not. Enterprise’s attempts to “sex it up” in season three were, frankly, ludicrous. Star Trek, according to Gene Roddenberry, was never adverse to lascivious female aliens: Orion slave girls, anyone? But quite frankly, making Jolene Blalock little more than eye-candy was a poor call. It didn’t fit the character, and was blatantly an attempt to attract an audience of hormonal college boys. Are the same men interested in Jolene Blalock’s “assets” going to care about the ramifications of a temporal anomaly? I doubt. Voyager and Enterprise’s writers made the other cast act like giggling school girls around Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine and Blalock’s T’Pol respectively. It wasn’t clever, nor effective.

5) When all else fails, add zombies

Take this:

Note the stirring music, high production values, moral conflict and powerful premise.

Now, take five years later:

Note the alien vampires, poor acting, poor dialogue and little or no moral/emotional conflict whatsoever? Just gunshots and explosions.

The decline still brings a tear to my eye.

Sandoval

Earth: Final Conflict – worth a remake?

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It’s been over seven years since Earth: Final Conflict ended its five year run.

Over that run, it produced some 110 episodes spread across five seasons.  It opened with strong critical acclaim, but after the departure of show lead Kevin Kilner, the series declined creatively to the point of depravity in its fifth and final year. 

The reasons for the decline of Earth: Final Conflict are complex.  After all, shows can survive the departures of their leads.  E:FC however became a shadow of itself; a mediocre show with a mediocre plot and over-arching story.   That’s because the original premise of Earth: Final Conflict was so intrinsically bound to the story and fate of William Boone (Kevin Kilner) that his departure was not just a loss, it was a completely different show.  The same approach and plot could not remain.

Kilner3For those of you unfamiliar, Earth: Final Conflict was set three years after the arrival on Earth of an alien race called the Companions.  Seemingly benevolent, these Taelon aliens were not universally trusted.  The Resistance movement, led by Jonathan Doors (David Hemblen) recruit Boone after his wife is killed in a car accident.  Doors suggests to Boone that his wife’s death was not an accident, but rather the doing of the Taelons after Boone rejected the North American Companion Da’an’s offer to become a Companion Protector.  That job came with prerequisites, however, one of which being the implantation of  Cyber Viral Implant (CVI) to boost mental acuity.  A consequence known to the Resistance however was that the CVI also rewrote the Protector’s motivational imperative, forcing the person to become devotedly loyal to their assigned Companion.

Boone, using the Resistance who have disabled this motivational imperative in a CVI, then accepts Da’an’s offer and becomes an undercover agent for the liberation movement.  His mission is to discover what the Companion’ real mission on Earth is.

As the years of the show went on, that ‘mission’ became less and less clear and increasingly clouded.  But not in a Lost-style layers-of-mystery way.  Rather a collection of unfinished plot lines and creative U-turns meant that the Taelon’s true mission was often suggested as one thing, but in the end turned out to be quite another. 

As such, the first season was rather tantalising.  Frequent glimpses into what appeared to be a well thought-out and deeply written mythology and suggestions of plots which could take us through for many seasons to come.  Kevin Kilner’s Boone was infinitely likable; the Taleon’s stunningly perplexing and magically portrayed by Leni Parker’s Da’an.  The characters were diverse and formed a magnificent ensemble.  The sinister Taelon agenda personified through Von Flores’ portrayal of FBI Agent Ronald Sandoval, and humanity’s diversity never overlooked through quirky technical wizardry of Augar, and the quintessentially feminist performance of Lisa Howard’s Lili Marquette. 

I remember being blown away by the quality of the early special effects (for 1997, that is).  They appeared unique – the novelty of television using high quality CGI had not yet worn off – and were complemented by a magnificently composed musical score from Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon.  The series fixated, inspired and triggered the imagination of its viewers in so many ways.  I personally don’t think I’ve ever had a repeat of waiting each week for a new episode of any show with such constant anticipation (on a personal note, it also produced one of the better American representations of rural Ireland in season one’s ‘Secret of Strandhill’). What’s more – such was the quality – I knew I was not going to be disappointed.

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The first season was made still more compelling by the inherent moral ambiguity of the set-up.  Whilst the show later degraded into good versus evil, the first season was very much Boone’s story; Boone the Victim.  Boone wasn’t instantly picking sides.  He didn’t trust the Resistance, but he trusted the Taelons even less.  He was the reluctant participant in a very complex set of events.  E:FC’s early success really hinged upon the humanity of Boone.  His loss at the end of the first year was irreparable.

With the recreation of V and Alien Nation, could there be space for a remake of Earth: Final Conflict: a version capturing the magic and aura of the early episodes whilst resetting the story back to its original premise – this time with the potential of completing its promise?

Such a decision would potentially mean erasing plenty of good work and characters established in later seasons of the show.   Characters such as Tate, whom I enjoyed greatly for his relationship with Sandoval, do not naturally fit into the early concepts of the show.  Reluctantly, he’d have to go. 

I for one would not like to see the Atavus, or Jaridians even though both were represented by talented actors on occasion.  The show should be about the Taelons at the forefront, and their relationship with humanity.  Not humanity’s participation in an interstellar conflict, because at that point we risk falling into the realm of the generic.   

Even Zo’or, brilliantly portrayed by Anita La Selva, could do with a complete reinterpretation.  Zo’or fell victim to the paradigm of ultimate power corrupting – a very human flaw.  The magnificence of the Taelons lay in the early episodes at being only part human – connective to us up to a point, but not entirely.  Zo’or’s downfall seems simply too human, and thus the role of the character in any reset would have to be reimagined.

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The other risk of a remake would be jeopardising in some way what I consider to be a rather fantastic pilot.  I wouldn’t touch that.  I would just reset from there and move on.  In my own dream world, I’d keep the same cast as their interactions were fantastic, particularly the Parker/Kilner rapport. 

Over course, I’ve jumped entirely into an idealistic world where exactly such a remake is possible.  It’s not.  For one thing, the show’s only been off the hair seven years.  Give it another eight or ten then we might be talking.

Obviously, and remake would also have to reshoot the pilot.  Such wishful thinking that it would be left untouched is completely unreasonable: I apologise.  And the wonderful cast they assembled would have to be replaced.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that Gene Roddenberry’s world contained infinitely more potential than was ever realised by the show, especially after the first season.  There’s so much fantastic sci-fi drama in the concept as-of-yet unrealised. 

Do I think a remake is worth a go?  Absolutely. 

Do I see it happening?  Maybe in the far future.

One thing’s for sure, I want to hear this music again…